Helping Reentry into Society through Social Work

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Social work and reentry into society and life

Reentry into society after a traumatic experience, rehab, or prison can be a challenging time for the individual and for their families. Usually, there a number of obstacles that can get in the way of these individuals remaining mentally healthy, clean, and lawful citizens.

As a result, many social workers are qualified to help those struggling to reenter society, as well as their family and friends. Continue reading to learn about the different struggles of reentering society and how social workers can help.

Reentry into society after trauma: infographic

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Different Types of Traumatic Experiences

We’ve all had traumatic experiences and everyone handles those events differently. That’s why it’s important to understand that the same event may not affect one person, but may have a profound impact on another.

Other times it may only seem like someone is coping well when really they’re hurting more than they allow others to see. That doesn’t mean that one person is weaker than another, it just shows how different we all are.

Some of the types of traumatic experiences that we’ll address in this article, are:

  • Life after the military
  • Overcoming agoraphobia
  • Life after rehab and remaining sober – of interest to substance abuse counselor degrees.
  • Reentry to life after prison
  • Youth reentering school after suicide attempt

Those who have experienced any of these can face serious challenges in returning to everyday society and life. Therefore, understanding the signs of depression or other mental health issues is important, as well as understanding how to overcome them.

Part of the studying and obtaining licensure as a social worker, especially those who have earned a Master of Social Work (MSW), is understanding these subtle differences and how to effectively help the individual.

Life after Military Service

Serving time in the military can be a stressful time for servicemembers and their families. Just as difficult is transitioning from a military life full of structure, purpose, and clearly defined roles to a civilian life that may lack many of those characteristics.

For instance, one of the first obstacles for Veterans is trying to reconnect with and re-establishing a role with their family. While this may seem like it should come naturally, a Veteran’s family has developed their own routines and structure while the Veteran was away.

Upon return, both the family and the Veteran will have to adapt and learn a new routine, which can add more stress to a difficult time.

Social workers understand these challenges and can help soldiers returning to civilian life by listening to their struggles, recommend solutions that have worked for others, and setting veterans up with support groups.

Challenges Facing Returning Veterans

Some of the other challenges facing veterans returning from a tour of duty or leaving the military include:

  • Translating military skills and experience into finding a new career
  • Fitting into civilian communities
  • Creating structure and new routines
  • Adjusting to a different pace of life and work
  • Possible financial hardships

What Is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health problem that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, such as combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.

It’s natural to have upsetting memories about these situations or experiences. However, if trouble sleeping or other symptoms continue for more than a couple weeks or months, it may be a sign of PTSD.

There are different factors that can increase the chances of someone getting PTSD, such as the type and length of a traumatic event, or suffering an injury during the experience. This can also include personal factors, such as age, gender, and previous exposure to traumatic events.

Symptoms of PTSD

Some of the symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Reliving the event: Some examples are through bad memories, nightmares, or flashbacks.
  • Avoiding similar situations: This can include avoiding discussions about the event or avoiding people that trigger memories.
  • Increasing negative feelings: These may impact the way you think about yourself, a lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy, or a lack of happiness in general.
  • Feeling keyed up (or hyperarousal): This includes being jittery or always alert and looking for danger. It also includes sudden irritability or acting in unhealthy ways, such as smoking, using drugs, or drinking more alcohol.

PTSD and Veterans

Between 11% and 20% of Veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year. Roughly 12% of Gulf War Veterans suffer from PTSD in a given year and an estimated 30% of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

How to Overcome Agoraphobia

People who suffer from agoraphobia avoid certain situations and places that may cause them to panic or feel trapped. In some cases, this can lead to people remaining housebound and never leaving because of their fear of the outside world.

Many people who suffer from agoraphobia create safe zones, or places and activities where they feel as though they won’t experience panic attacks. However, this may lead to a false sense of security and more panic attacks if the person finds themselves outside of one of these safe zones.

What Is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia means extreme or irrational fear of crowded spaces or enclosed public places. However, those who suffer from agoraphobia don’t find it irrational because events, places, or other triggers have cause them to have recurrent, and usually unexpected, panic attacks.

As a result, people who suffer from agoraphobia avoid the places, people, and events that may lead to the chest tightness, fear, and panic. This can lead people to completely alter their lives and truly effect the lives of their friends and family as well.

Symptoms of Agoraphobia

While every case is different, some of the most common symptoms of agoraphobia include the fear of:

  • Leaving home alone
  • Crowds or waiting in line
  • Enclosed spaces, such as movie theaters or small stores
  • Open spaces, such as parking lots or bridges
  • Using public transportation

Being put in these situations may lead to a panic attack, which is a type of anxiety disorder where you experience sudden attacks of extreme fear that peak within a few minutes and trigger intense physical symptoms.

How Social Workers Can Help Those Suffering from Agoraphobia

Clinical social workers provide treatment and prevention of mental health issues. They also work with individuals, couples, families, and groups through:

  • Assessment
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment planning
  • Intervention / treatment
  • Evaluation of outcomes
  • Case management

Interventions conducted by clinical social workers may be able to help people of all ages and range in nature from preventive, crisis, and psycho-educational services, which can include working with those who suffer from agoraphobia one-on-one, with family and friends, and staying with them as they enter situations that cause anxiety.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack

Every panic attack is different, so it’s important to remember that it may include one or more of the symptoms below.

If you think you’ve experienced a panic attack, discuss your symptoms with a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health social worker.

Some of the symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Feeling shaky or numb
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fear of dying
  • Feeling a loss of control

Did You Know?

An estimated 1.3% of U.S. adults experience agoraphobia at some time in their lives.

Life After Rehab

Deciding to go to rehab or, in some unfortunate cases, being forced to go, is a difficult process and usually means that one’s life and addiction has spiraled out of control. Often, there was one event or a string of events that continued to become more and more severe that led to that point.

However, going to rehab is an important step to changing one’s life and becoming clean. But those returning from rehab face a number of challenges to remaining sober.

Learning these challenges and how to overcome them is an important step in remaining clean.

Challenges of Remaining Sober

Many of the challenges of remaining sober and returning to life after rehab stem from the triggers that led to drinking alcohol or drug use. These triggers can be anything, such as walking past the neighborhood bar on the way home from work or hanging out with old friends who use drugs.

Triggers can be anywhere, from at work, at home, and everywhere in between. Before leaving rehab, or immediately afterwards, it’s important to become aware of individual triggers and create a plan to either avoid those triggers or steps to overcome them.

It’s also important to remember that relapse is part of the process, which is why many rehab facilities help you to recognize the signs of relapse and offer ways to overcome these challenges.

How Can Social Workers Help with Substance Abuse?

Social workers who help those suffering from alcohol and substance abuse may work in a variety of settings, such as:

  • Schools
  • Community-based organizations
  • Mental health clinics
  • Criminal justice system

These social workers are trained to provide counseling and to perform assessment, clinical evaluation, treatment planning, case management, and client, family, and community education.

Often, alcohol and substance abuse issues effect the entire family unit, and social workers have the education and experience to help the patient and his or her family appropriately handle the challenges of remaining sober and manage their emotions to help the patient remain sober.

Social workers are also trained to understand the effects of substance abuse on brain functioning and are able to recognize the appropriate level of care to begin treatment.

Ways to Overcome Relapse

Some of the best ways to overcome the likelihood of relapsing include:

  • Finding sober friends
  • Changing routine
  • Working on mental health (through yoga, exercise, or meditation)
  • Joining a support group
  • Going to a psychologist or counselor
  • Helping someone else

Did You Know?

As of 2020, roughly 37.3 million persons aged 12 or older were current illicit drug users according to NCDAS.

Reentry After Prison

Reentering society after a prison sentence is one of the most challenging things to do and there are many theories as to why. Some believe that there isn’t enough support offered to prisoners and to those just released, such as counseling, education, and help with substance abuse problems.

Others say that it is more difficult for ex-prisoners to find gainful employment, secure consistent housing, and generally function and contribute to society. And still other theories say that there are many prisoners who committed a small crime and go to prison only to learn how to commit larger crimes from more seasoned criminals.

In reality, it is probably a combination of all of these factors. Either way, it’s important for prisoners, their families, and social workers to understand the unique challenges faced by ex-prisoners and how to help them avoid the likelihood that they will return to prison.

Did You Know?

There were roughly 1.77 million prisoners in the United States in the Spring of 2021 according to

What Is Recidivism?

The Congressional Research Service defines recidivism as “the re-arrest, reconviction, or re-incarceration of an ex-offender within a given time frame.”

According to the National Institute of Justice, 67.8% of released prisoners were rearrested within three years. That number grows to 76.6% after five years.

With such high rates of recidivism, some states are trying a different approach by offering varying reentry services, such as anger management and job training. In eight states that offered these programs and tracked the statistics from 2010 to 2013, rates of recidivism dropped between 6% and 19% three years after incarceration.

How Can Social Workers Help with Reentry into Society?

Many MSW programs offer a variety of concentrations, which includes corrections social work at some schools. These programs focus on the unique challenges facing those who are imprisoned and making sure that they are treated with dignity and worth, just like everyone else.

Some of these challenges include:

  • Entry and re-release into society
  • Monitoring prison practices and conditions
  • Family services
  • Mental health and substance abuse counseling
  • Probation management
  • Job and life skills training
  • Implementing educational programs

These social workers can help prisoners develop action plans based on their needs and future goals when they are re-released into society and take an active role in shaping an inmate’s life outside of incarceration.

What Is the National Reentry Resource Center

The National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC) is the nation’s primary source of information and guidance in reentry. The NRRC was created as part of the Second Chance Act of 2008 which authorizes federal grants to government agencies and nonprofits to provide reentry services and to support corrections and supervision practices that aim to reduce recidivism.

Some of these reentry services include:

  • Employment assistance
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Housing
  • Family programming
  • Mentoring
  • Victims support

Reentry into Society: Elements of Successful Programs

Reentering society after the military, agoraphobia, substance abuse, prison, or any other disorder or event can be a stressful and challenging time, both for the individual and their families and friends.

However, there are ways that can help ease this transition, including working with a social worker who has training and experience helping those with similar struggles. Some of the elements to help reenter society are:

Finding a community

Talking about your experience and finding social support is one of the best ways to overcome these psychological issues and the unique challenges of a specific reentry. However, discussing them with family or friends may seem unhelpful because they may not have experienced the same trauma as you.

Therefore, it’s important to find a community or support group of people who have had similar experiences and issues so that you can share your challenges.


Similar to building a community, counseling serves the same purpose of being able to talk through your experience. In certain circumstances, such as PTSD, repeatedly talking about your trauma can actually change the way your brain thinks about the event and make the memories no longer upsetting.

In fact, many licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) provide counseling services to patients and their families, and may even run support groups. However, if you’re interested in becoming a social worker, keep in mind that there are some differences between an MSW and a counseling master’s degree.


Medications can also be effective treatment options. However, this may not be an option for those recovering from substance abuse issues because some may lead to addiction, which may lead to pursuing other types of drugs.

Regardless of the issue or trauma that you’re trying to overcome, make sure to discuss all medication possibilities, including the risk, side effects, and benefits with your doctor, counselor, psychologist, and family to make sure that it is the right option for you.

There are plenty of other ways to overcome traumatic experiences and reenter society. Often, these include some combination of talking about the event, learning about the symptoms and triggers, and continuing to put events or triggers in a different light.

Teenage Reentry After Attempted Suicide

With almost 46,000 suicides each year and as the 12th leading cause of death in America in 2020, unfortunately, suicide is a real risk in the United States according to

This is a growing issue, especially with children and teens who confront a new set of circumstances and challenges, such as cyber bullying and the difficulties that face LGBTQ teens.

In fact, more than 30% of LGBTQ youth report attempting to end their life by suicide within the last year and more than 50% of youth who identified as transgender will have at least one suicide attempt by the time they are 20 years old.

Did You Know?

More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDs, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease COMBINED.

Unique Challenges Facing Reentry to School for Teens

Unfortunately, students who have made a suicide attempt are at increased risk to attempt to harm themselves again, which makes the handling of the reentry process to school an important step in prevention.

There are a number of issues during the reentry process, and all efforts should be made to make their return as comfortable as possible. This can include:

  • Connecting the student with a tutor to review missed assignments and lessons
  • Having a counselor and trusted teacher keep regular contact with the student
  • Providing progress reports to the parents

Many school districts have a plan in place to help these students reenter successfully. Therefore, check with your local school officials for additional information.

Sometimes, this includes working with a social worker who can assess the student’s well-being, as well as his or her family’s, provide one-on-one and group counseling sessions, and create a treatment plan so that these teens can learn how to succeed in environments that cause stress and oppression.

Learn to Help Others to Reenter Society

One of the ways you can help people reenter society after a traumatic event is by earning a graduate degree in social work or by finding a CSWE accredited MSW program. In many cases, pursuing social work doesn’t have to be bank-breaking – you could find an affordable MSW program or an MSW that accepts students with low GPA scores!

Social workers can have a variety of roles, which is why, if you’re interested in earning an MSW, it’s important to understand the different concentrations available and the different social work career paths.

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